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The Brief American Pageant , Sixth Edition
David M. Kennedy, Stanford University
Lizabeth Cohen, Harvard University
Thomas A. Bailey
Mel Piehl, Valparaiso University
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Introduction | Questions to Consider | Source

Susan LaFollette on Marriage and Divorce
Susan LaFollette

Instructors' Note
As you discuss this document with students, you will want to help them understand the legal and economic dimensions of marriage and divorce. Chances are that a significant number of your students will have experienced divorce in their own family. As a result, you may want to acknowledge that divorce is an emotional issue, but it is also an important historical phenomenon. Ultimately, no one can understand modern society without studying divorce. To provide more historical context, you might want to talk to students about the limited rights of women as individuals in society. Even today, some women are hesitant to divorce because of the difficulty they would face when trying to regain economic and social status. An interesting class discussion might be about why some women are still willing to stay in marriages that do not satisfy them, despite today's increased economic protections for women and the lessening stigma surrounding divorce. Again, help students see beyond the emotional ramifications of the topic to more closely evaluate the economic and legal dimensions of this issue.

Before answering the following questions about this document, you will want to review in your text American attitudes toward divorce in the early part of this century. Think about how society's views of divorce have changed over time and how some issues have remained the same.

Questions to Consider
  1. According to LaFollette, why was divorce becoming more generally accepted in the 1920s?

  2. Do you agree with LaFollette's assertion? Why or why not?

  3. What does the author's opinion tell us about the changing roles of husbands and wives in the 1920s?

  4. Do you think LaFollette's opinion is applicable to today's social culture? Why or why not?

. . . The general acceptance of the idea of divorce at present is in great measure the result of woman's growing demand for reciprocity in her relations with men, and her refusal to be owned either economically or sexually. It may be regarded as an aspect of her general declaration of independence. That there are women who still make a profession of being owned, either in or out of wedlock, does not invalidate the general truth that as women have found themselves in a position to make their demands effective, they have insisted upon elevating marriage to a higher moral plane. Divorce has been one of the means to this end. No doubt it is a means often abused; but no institution has been more often abused by unscrupulous people than that of marriage, and no one ever thought the abuse an argument against the institution. It is largely due to the possibility of divorce that marriage now tends to be regarded as a voluntary partnership involving equal economic and spiritual obligations on both sides, and justly to be dissolved when those obligations have been violated by either party or have become onerous to either or to both. . . .